Every Easter since I quit drinking, I’ve been going to my Uncle’s house with my Mother and Father. I find it easier to go home during this time than Christmas because fewer people travel. Also, Christmas is too close to Thanksgiving and I like to go home for that too.
My uncle has always been a big drinker, having descended from the same Irish immigrants of my father. I suspect there is a genetic component to my problem and I blame my great-grandparents for it. He has a sign in his kitchen that says “Never trust a man who doesn’t drink.” Oddly, though he has been sympathetic to my not drinking. He’s seen me at my worst and doesn’t give me a hard time for quitting.
People who like to drink obviously have friends who like to drink. And he invited his friends over. One of his friends was recently arrested for driving with a BAC of 0.23 — almost 3 times the legal limit in this state. All of his friends offered sympathy and ways to get around the punishment. I was completely disgusted and didn’t want to speak to the person.
Why can’t these people see their insanity?
Apologies for the hiatus. I’ve gone back to marathon training. This time I’m serious. I think.
As a brief recap: I ran a disappointing marathon last October. So I took up a new training program in November, resolving to run a fast marathon in January. Around mid-December, that went sideways, largely because of the Christmas Holidays and the fact that I had neglected to register for the marathon I was training for, only to discover that it had sold out. Not that I wasn’t keeping in shape — I hiked the Grand Canyon and went skiing over Christmas Holidays as well as plenty of running. But instead of trying another January race, I decided to save myself for the Big Sur Marathon I luckily was able to register for. That takes place at the end of April.
Intent on making it great, I have ramped up my training to the level I used to train at back when I was young and fast and could get away with drinking. In the past 6 weeks, I’ve managed to go from a 40-mile-per-week runner to a 65-mile-a-week runner. And frankly, that has kept me blissfully worn out.
I also feel young again. And fast. And insane. And hungry all the time. But I’m happy and challenged. That’s the way I like it.
After a particularly bad day at work, I decided that I needed a 6-pack of N/A beer to take the edge off. So I walked into the liquor store next to where I live, and picked up a pack of Bitburger Drive (0.0% alcohol) that the guys at the store keep just for me. As he saw me approaching the owner said “Haven’t see you for a while Boat. I got worried. Thought you quit drinking.”
On my long road trip over the Christmas holidays I went by the town where I lived a large fraction of my 20s. I’d have to say those were the “best” years of my life. I was young and full of ideas and creativity, and life seemed so carefree back then. I started to wonder, “what is it that I did then that made me so happy? Could I start doing those things again to make me happier now.”
It occurred to me that it would make a good exercise to review all the years of my life and find the one thing that I liked about life in each of those years, and see if I could bring those things back into my life. I have started to make a list of things I liked: the music I listened to, the books I read, movies, running, skiing, long crazy hikes, and so on.
Coincidentally, I stumbled upon a quote by Goethe yesterday:
“There is no past that we can bring back by longing for it. There is only an eternally new now that builds and creates itself out of the Best as the past withdraws.”
The person who quoted Gothe added: “If you are able let go of the past, then your life going forward will build upon the best parts of that past.”
That’s exactly what I want to do.
On my 33rd birthday, I found myself stumbling down the Pearl St. Mall in Boulder, CO after consuming entirely too many Mojitos with my friends. The fact that it was my birthday only meant that I was only slightly drunker than usual for that time of night and I didn’t pay for (all of) my drinks. As I was headed towards my apartment, I noticed in my haze a group of sorority girls standing in the middle of the mall discreetly holding a sign that said “Spankings $5.”
“Oh boy, this is going to be a great birthday!” I slurred to myself.
Being sloshed, I had the courage to approach the girls and offer my $5 while telling them it was my birthday. They even checked my ID, just to make sure I wasn’t BSing. They giggled and told me to lean over the park bench. So I did. One girl, wearing a cat-woman mask, took out an enormous paddle, and proceeded to whack me until tears of pain filled my eyes and I couldn’t take it anymore. I was surprised that such a little girl could inflict enough pain to make a drunk man cry. Then she gave me a sweet hug and a peck on the cheek, wished me a happy birthday, and sent me on my way. I felt alive!
For two weeks after that, I went back to the Mall, hoping the girls were there with their paddles. But they weren’t and it made me sad.
I’m not exactly sure why I am telling that story now, but I was reminded of it this past weekend. I caught a nasty cold, probably from hiking the Grand Canyon without warm enough clothes, which made me cancel my marathon plans for January 7th, and kept me from running for a week. Not running made me rather depressed, and I decided that the best thing to do was go to the Hustler Casino to play some poker. That was a disaster. Sitting there with a bunch of compulsive gamblers and drunks, I lost $500. Now, it’s not unusual to lose $500 in a poker game (nor is it unusual to win $500). But it hurt, like the spanking. Enough to jolt me out of the depression and realize that what I really need to do is get back to running, ASAP. After a week of going back on schedule, I feel much better now.
I guess I needed that.
It’s been a pretty good week. Saturday, I picked up a rental SUV and headed east out of LA. I stayed in Flagstaff for the night. On Sunday morning, I drove up to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. It was very cold there, by LA standards. I parked the car and caught a shuttle bus to the South Kaibab trailhead. I was equipped with a Nathan Hydrapack, a new pair of waterproof Montrail Running shoes, a pair of Kahtoola microspikes in case things got icy, a few Cliff Bars, some Cliff shots, and an extra pair of socks. It was very icy at the trailhead so I put the Kahtoola microspikes on the shoes, and headed down the South Kaibab. After a mile or so, I was past the ice layer, and took them off. They performed brilliantly. Down down down I headed to the Colorado river some 4000 feet below the south rim. When I got there, I crossed the suspension bridge over the river, and made it to Phantom Ranch. There, I refilled my hydrapack, and headed back up the Bright Angel trail. Again, I was very glad that I had the microspikes with me the last mile. What a great hike.
Then I was off to Colorado. I stayed in my family’s cabin for a couple days. I did some skiing and some running through the snow (again with the microspikes.) I met my ex-drinking buddy. He invited me to his place for some tea. He didn’t say a word about me quitting drinking. We had a wonderful time, chatting. I can’t believe I was so worried about meeting him again. So much anxiety about nothing, it seems. But then he invited me to stay at his house with his wife and children for the night and I started feeling triggered. So I told him I had to leave to visit some friends in New Mexico. I set off, drove for a 100 miles, and stopped in a hotel for the night.
Tomorrow, I visit New Mexico. Then it’s back to the Grand Canyon for another hike before I get back to LA.
I went home to see my family for Thanksgiving and it was lovely. But I am not going home for Christmas. They are 1700 miles away, and I do not see the point of going through the hassle of traveling home again when I just saw them last month. I told them I’d visit for Easter because I want to spread my visits home throughout the year. But now I’m feeling a little guilty about it.
Instead, I decided to rent a car for a week and have a journey. This “journey” has now become a plan to drive to my family’s cabin in Colorado and hang out by myself. I stupidly forgot to register for the marathon I was planning on running on January 27th, and it has sold out. So now, I’m thinking of running one on January 6th, as a test run to see if I can break 4 hours, and refocus my training on my upcoming marathon in Big Sur in April. This means I can start tapering Christmas week. What better time to taper than the holidays? What better place to taper than at high altitude, where I can increase my red blood cell count, and essentially “blood dope” before the marathon? Also, I can ski and run and do the things that I want to do in the mountains. And maybe I’ll stop by the Grand Canyon on the way and go for a nice trail run along the rim. Or maybe if I’m feeling ambitious, I’ll hike down to the bottom, and run back up to the top. Or visit Zion National Park. Or go north and ski Mammoth. The beauty is I can do whatever I want!
It was a great plan, until I told my Russian drinking buddy who happens to live in Colorado that I’d be there Christmas week. I haven’t seen him since I quit and I don’t know if he knows that I quit. I do know that of all possible triggers, he’s the atom bomb that triggers the hydrogen bomb. All he has to do is pull out a vodka bottle and say “Boat! Let’s have a shot!” I want to see my old friend and his family. But I have to tell him that I quit drinking before we meet and that I would be most appreciative if he did not offer me a shot of vodka. I’ll point out that I don’t care if he drinks in front of me, but I don’t want to feel pressured, or have to make an awkward explanation especially if any of our other friends are there. That’s what I have to do. I don’t want any surprises when we meet. A true friend will understand; I’m sure he won’t even question it. But it did give me a pause when he called me to tell me how happy he will be to see me; there is a reason I haven’t seen him since I quit.
Writing that just helped me a lot.